On the last track, we discussed three techniques that can enhance a client's awareness during counseling. These three techniques were repeating, exaggeration, and staying with.
On this track, we will discuss three Gestalt techniques regarding changing words when speaking that can increase your client's self-awareness. These three instances are: changing "it" to "I", changing "can't" to "won't", and changing "have to" to "choose to".
As you know, a person's language is not necessarily spontaneous. Speech can be manipulated so that what a client is trying to say is masked in words which convey a different meaning. Some of these manipulations are unique to individual clients, but some manipulations have become a part of idiomatic English. For example, the phrase 'it's good to be here today' depersonalizes the statement and distracts the speaker from his or her own feelings of happiness.
Clearly, saying 'I feel happy to be here' focuses the speaker more on his or her own feelings in the 'now'. I find that by encouraging clients to change words that depersonalize or distract, it becomes easier for clients to discuss their feelings.
Three Examples Regarding Word Choice
Example #1 - Changing 'It' to 'I'
I stated to Larry, "Say that again, but try saying it another way, using 'I' instead of it." Larry replied, "Ok… I feel aggravated that my wife keeps telling me to relax?" I stated, "So you feel aggravated at Dianne?" Larry stated, "Yes! I feel aggravated at Dianne!" By focusing on replacing "it" with "I", Larry's awareness of his feelings of aggravation increased, and we were able to move on to discussing what specifically triggered Larry's aggravation. Would your increased of a client's use of the word "it" rather than "I" in your next session be beneficial?
Example #2 - Changing 'Can't' to 'Won't'
In this case, many clients actually experience the impasse of 'can't', and feel unable. I find that asking a client to substitute 'won't' for 'can't' is a way of enhancing the awareness of his or her responsibility for the refusal or fear that is at the base of the 'can't'. Remember Suzanne from Track 1? In a recent session, Suzanne stated, "I just can't do my Math homework for class tomorrow!"
6-Step Technique: Can't Substitution
-- 1. Try to recall some other 'can't' statement that you use often. Repeat them slowly to yourself, and notice the feelings that accompany them.
Suzanne stated, "I actually feel a bit relieved. That's how I feel. I won't do my math homework, because I feel afraid of getting another bad grade no matter how hard I try! I feel that if I'm going to do bad anyway, why spend the effort in the first place?!"
I find that for some clients, examining their feelings of defiance behind a "won't" statement can be valuable. Experiencing the strength evident in defiance can help clients own and accept their inner strength, which is necessary for learning how to use this strength constructively. Would you agree? Would your Suzanne benefit from the Can't Substitution technique?
Example #3 - Changing 'Have to' to 'Choose to'
I stated, "But who says you have to?" Suzanne thought for a couple of minutes, and then stated, "Well, I guess I have to, if I want to get a good marketing job." I asked Suzanne to substitute the words "choose to" for "have to". Suzanne stated, "I am choosing to take psychology, because I want to work in marketing."
Clearly, some clients, like Suzanne, may try to avoid the fact that they are responsible for putting themselves in discomforting situations. However, until these clients recognize and accept that they are behaving in accordance with their choices, they may not recognize their power to generate alternatives. Agree?
Do you have a client like Suzanne who would benefit from learning to say "I choose to" instead of "I have to?"
On this track, we have discussed three instances in which changing words when speaking can increase self-awareness. These three instances are: changing "it" to "I", changing "can't" to "won't", and changing "have to" to "choose to".
On the next track, we will discuss three changes counselors and clients can make to their sentences to enhance self-awareness. These three changes are, changing passive voice to active voice, changing questions to statements, and asking "how" and "what" instead of "why".
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